While government security such as screening processes and surveillance tactics are designed to keep the nation safe, many Americans also value their privacy. A recently announced ‘phase’ of an airport scanning technology, referred to as ‘Biometric Air Exit,’ has been announced that is sure to upset many travelers.
With the combined efforts of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and Transportation Security Administration, facial recognition technology will begin to be implemented in international airports nationwide. Aside from the privacy concerns, there is another that both travelers and security officials share, as outlined in a recently released report.
The issue, when considering the technology practically, is that such a new security measure may delay flight times, causing major travel issues.
While the aforementioned agencies could likely care less about tourists and businessmen alike missing their connecting flights or any other hassles it could cause people, they are concerned that upon an airport being forced to expedite security lines, TSA officials could be more likely to revert to old-fashioned methods of screening travelers in foregoing the technology on occasion.
Given that it would be a new way of handling travel security, DHS admitted that “Repeatedly permitting airlines to revert to standard fight-boarding procedures without biometric processing may become a habit that is difficult to break.”
Since October last year, so far, facial recognition technology has been utilized to scan faces and then verify passport data “with U.S. Customs and Border Protection” in several major airports.
The second ‘phase’ of the technology implementation is said to be using data collected from passengers on international flights leaving the U.S. “and match this against a picture of each passenger taken there at the TSA checkpoint.”
Yet even in its test version, titled ‘Sprint 8,’ CBP was forced to allow airlines to skip the process so that flights would not be further delayed.
This occurred already at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, allowing 120 travelers to skip the process.
While the recently released report mentions this as a concern, it also seeks to guarantee that the “airline officials we interviewed indicated the processing time was generally acceptable and did not contribute to departure delays.”
Yet anyone who has ever traveled knows that airports are often prone to delays, and implementing another level of technology is sure to slow the process even more.
However, DHS and CBP remain optimistic that by 2021, “100 percent of all departing passengers” will be required to submit to the screening and claim that it will instead expedite the traveling process.
As of now, even where the process has been tested, passengers have been permitted to opt of the screening, a fact that is not advertised. Said passengers will instead have traveling documents reviewed by security personnel instead.
The main reason for doing so is generally related to privacy, as many passengers would not prefer to have their face scanned and then stored in a database.
Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Ed Markey from Massachusetts argued that “American travelers deserve to know exactly who has access to their facial recognition data, how their information will be safeguarded, and how they can opt out of the program altogether.”
However, DHS guaranteed that photos of travelers are not retained indefinitely but that they will be stored for 12 hours for U.S. citizens and “up to 14 days” for non-U.S. citizens.
Admittedly, the technology has already proven successful on at least two occasions.
At the Washington Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, two travelers were found to have been using passports inconsistent with their identities. In both instances, the individuals were attempting to enter the country.
However, as with any technology, there have been initial glitches. It was reported that Biometric Air Exit was less likely to correctly identify individuals under 29 or “over age 70,” likely because of the changes in appearances that occur around these ages.
Also notable is that U.S. citizens have been said to be less easily identified than foreigners based on the typical situation where they have “fewer photos available in the digital gallery than foreign visitors who had to meet passport requirements, and because the U.S. only requires its citizens to renew their passports every 10 years.”
Yet perhaps the most concerning factor is that Biometric Air Exit is also said to be less effective in identifying travelers from Canada and Mexico, an obvious problem considering illegal immigration concerns.
However, overall, the technology has been faulty for other reasons such as that photos taken for passports and those scanned at airports are likely to be taken from different angles or distances, in varying lighting, or could prove problematic if travelers are wearing accessories such as “hats or scarves.”
Given these concerns and the scanning technology already proving to have issues, it is fair to assume that these have the potential of causing delays, leaving airport security with two choices: hold up security lines further and ensure that an individual is properly identified or allow groups of travelers to skip the scanning process, thus making it pointless.
Despite other concerns such as privacy, some have predicted that said delays are more likely to be concerning to travelers than anything else.